Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Solitaire du Figaro form guide

Will Dalin, Lunven, Macaire once again overcome the Brits in this year's race?

Saturday June 18th 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

The most recent champions of La Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, three-time winners Jérémie Beyou and Yann Elies, are absent this year both competing in the Vendée Globe in November. So the winner of this year's four-stage solo offshore race which starts from Deauville tomorrow and finishes on 9 July in La Rochelle remains an open book.

Elies and Beyou have shared Solitaire honours since 2011, Eliès winning in 2012, 2013 and 2015 and only missing out in 2014 when his rig crashed down on Leg 1. But between the four of five favourites for the 2016 La Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro title, the level is very even. There is no one stand-out competitor and that alone suggests this race will be one of the most open and hard fought for many years.

As Thierry Chabagny, Gedimat skipper and winner of the Transat AG2R La Mondiale, points out:  “The principle of the race is that anyone can win. We all have the same boat, we all know how to make it work, we all have the same routing software. The difference will be the motivation, preparation, passion, risk taking. There are a couple of guys who are likely to win this year."


On paper Charlie Dalin, 32, is the nearest there is to an 'heir apparent'. The skipper from Le Havre finished third in 2014 and second in 2015. A Southampton University graduate in yacht design he has worked in design offices in Australia, Thailand and Sweden.

For the second time he has been selected for the Macif Skipper sponsorship. This is the fast track programme that supported François Gabart through his time in the Figaro class, finishing second in 2011 before going on to become the youngest ever winner of the Vendée Globe in 2013.

A past Mini sailor, Dalin’s first big success was winning the Transat AG2R with Gildas Morvan in 2012. Dalin’s technical expertise is renowned and his boatwork and preparation second to none. After finishing second to Elies last year, he raced the Transat Jacques Vabre with him, finishing third.

Dalin commented: “The status of favourite is like election predictions, this does not means you’ll win. And I am not the only one. I pay no attention to it as losing the mast on the Transat AG2R La Mondiale painfully reminded me that sailing is a mechanical sport. This race is one of the hardest to win. It's true that I have always progressed throughout my four previous appearances from 23rd spot in the first year to the second in 2015. If I continue this momentum, and if I can count on a good alignment of the stars for success, logic suggests I could finish first. "

The only skipper in the fleet to have won La Solitaire previously is Generali skipper Nicolas Lunven who returns to the race after a two-year absence. Lunven won the Top Rookie award in 2007 and then triumphed overall two years later, aged 26, on only his third attempt, beating all the top names, among them Michel Desjoyeaux, Eliès, Beyou and Armel Le Cléac’h. A leading student at the Pole Course au Large Port La Foret training school, which has produced the last 13 Figaro champions, Lunven is very cool under pressure and consistent. Lunven was picked by Michel Desjoyeaux to be navigator on Volvo Ocean Race entry MAPFRE, but like the two time Vendée Globe winner, stood down after the first leg. Lunven surprised no one when he returned to the Figaro and was immediately back among the frontrunner, winning the Transat AG2R.

Xavier Macaire is one of the favourites after only four years on the Figaro circuit. Currently the overall French Solo Elite Offshore champion, Macaire finished third overall last year and was second in 2013. From Aix en Provence, originally he sailed out of nearby La Grande Motte with the Centre Entrainment Mediterranée before moving last year to Port La Foret. He represents the very best chance of a first ‘Sudist’ – a sailor from the Med – winning La Solitaire since Franck Cammas in 1997.

Macaire came so close to winning last year: He had Eliès in his pocket, with around an hour in hand, but just 18 miles from the finish line in Dieppe, he sailed through an exclusion zone less than a square mile in size and his ensuing penalty imposed by the Jury dropped him to third overall. Macaire is on a revenge mission this year.

There are a number of other likely contenders. Thierry Chabagny and Erwan Tabarly together won the Transat AG2R this year. Yoann Richomme is on great form and Anthony Marchand won the Solo Maitre Coq, one of the key warm-up races.

Gildas Morvan, the gentle giant of the Figaro class, is competing in his 20th Solitaire, but has yet to win overall; Alexis Loison proved his form already this year when he won the Solo Basse Normandie, perhaps suggesting he can make the step up after four successive top-10 finishes in La Solitaire.


The top-three British skippers represent a serious prospect for a podium finish on a leg and a finish overall in the top-five to top-seven.

Alan Roberts is tipped by French observers as best of the British crop. A past Endeavour Trophy winner, Roberts came home ninth overall last year – the best British finisher since Claire Francis came fifth in 1975. He continues to improve and finished sixth in the Solo Maitre Coq this season. He has been immersed in the Port la Foret training programme, living the French life, and always pacing the top sailors like Lunven, Dalin, Richomme in training. Roberts has been very much accepted as their equal.

Alan Roberts commented: “I am here to learn. I am here to advance my offshore sailing. You can get a bad result after having sailed well, having learned a lot. It is all about becoming the finished article for me. A top-10 would be great, it would be great to repeat last year’s result. I know I have the speed to do that but there are a lot of good sailors here. You have to keep it up for so long. Just one hole, where the fleet sails away, can make the top-10 inaccessible. If I had top-five I would be pretty blooming happy. I am clear in my head what I can do. But that is for me. I am not cocky I don’t want to say I can win a race when there are so many good people out there. I know in the training I have been good. Last event I was a bit slow but was alright. I have new sails on and that makes a difference, you are not losing a little bit here or there.”

Nick Cherry on Redshift is competing in his fifth Solitaire and bounced back after a bitterly disappointing championship last year to take sixth in the Generali Solo after leading overall early in the race. This year he has never been better prepared and is in a good mindset to score his best Solitaire result.

Cherry said: “I feel good, I have now had two years of good funding, racing the same boat. I feel quite relaxed compared to past editions because I have not had a major refit to do. I guess I have just been focused on this. I had a disastrous race last year. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what went wrong last time but since then my results have been so much better. I did well at the Generali and I have been going quick and so my confidence is okay.”

Sam Matson on Chatham finished just outside the top-10 last year and has just finished sixth in the AG2R, proving he has the pace and durability to crack the elite group this year.

Matson said: “I want to make the top-10 this time. I have been 15th and 13th and now I want to break into the top-10. Most importantly I want to come away feeling like I did a good race. I had a ninth on the last leg last year and it would be good to pick up where I left off. On the Generali I made a sixth and eighth and was 11th overall. Now it is about having the confidence to be up there and not get too upset if you get buried at the start.”

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